Few books have impacted readers as profoundly as Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option. He joined me this morning to discuss the mounting crisis in the Roman Catholic Church:
HH: I’m so grateful to my guest, Rod Dreher, for getting up early, he’s in the Central Time Zone, to talk with me. He’s an author, a writer, the author of The Benedict Option, which David Brooks described as the most discussed and most important religious book of the decade. Originally a Methodist, he converted to Catholicism, then he converted to Orthodoxism. But he is a very careful observer of what is happening right now in the Roman Catholic Church. Rod, good morning, thank you for joining me. I just tweeted out a link to The Benedict Option. I gather you’re going over to Italy where the Italian edition of the book is coming out soon?
RD: That’s right. I’ll be heading over in early September for a book tour in Italy. And I’ll tell you, going to Rome under the conditions that the Catholic Church is now facing is going to be quite an interesting experience.
HH: Now I ran down the headlines this morning in all of the major newspapers. The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, they’re all covering what has finally come out because of Archbishop Vigano’s letter. And E.J. Dionne has a column, The Struggle To Stay Catholic. Would you summarize for our audience who let’s assume they were in a cave over the weekend, or for the last ten years, what is the crisis about which I am referring and you’ve written?
RD: Yeah. It’s a bombshell that landed over the weekend. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who was the Vatican’s chief diplomat to the United States from 2011 to 2016, published an 11 page statement in which he accused Pope Francis of having known all about Cardinal McCarrick and his sexual perversities and having returned McCarrick to full ministry despite this fact. Vigano’s 11 page document named a lot of names and said Rome knew about McCarrick going back to 2000, said that Pope Benedict put McCarrick on suspension, kind of a secret suspension, which McCarrick defied. But then after Benedict retired, Francis moved McCarrick back into ministry. What this does, if it’s true, it makes a liar of Pope Francis. And it makes his claims to be transparent and to be someone who’s eager to solve the sex abuse problem, it renders those claims null.
HH: It also comes on the heel of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, and the fact that Donald Wuerl is still the archbishop of Washington, D.C., though he is now known and demonstrated to be a conspirator in the cover up of the breadth and depth of those depravities, and after $3.8 billion dollars in judgments involving 8,600 abuse survivors in the United States alone not counting Italy, Australia, the whole Ireland controversy. In other words, I feel like the Church, and I am Catholic and you are now Orthodox, I feel like the whole foundation is shaking.
RD: Well, it really is, and it’s astonishing, the things that Vigano says in his piece about the so-called Lavender Mafia in the Church about gay prelates, or gay-friendly prelates like Donald Wuerl and others who conspire to protect each other and to advance each other’s career. This is a real bombshell, and it’s going to be remarkable to observe if the mainstream media really covers it and gives full attention to the things that Vigano is saying here. I have to also say, though, Hugh, that this didn’t happen overnight. This crisis in the Catholic Church has been building for at least 50 years. And what’s happening now is ordinary Catholics at the local level are going to have to wake up and realize that if they’re going to save their faith, they’re going to have to get involved themselves not only to clean up the Church, but also to build the faith up, build a serious faith in their own homes and local communities to weather the storm.
HH: Now I’ll come back to that in a moment, because I think it’s also going to require in essence the starvation of the Church financially, which is very hard for me to say, but I think maybe the only way of getting anyone’s attention. The Pope was on a plane home for Ireland last night and was asked about the Vigano letter and said I read the statement this morning. I read it and I will say honestly to you, looking at the journalists and all who are interested, you read the statement attentively and you make your own judgment. I will not say a single word about this. I believe the statement speaks for itself, and you have enough journalistic capacity to reach conclusions. It’s an act of faith, he said to a plane full of reporters. When time has passed and you have the conclusions, maybe I will say some more. But I want for your professional maturity to do the job. After he told the reporters to make your own judgments, he said he’d first learned about it, about the allegations, that morning. That is an astonishing non-response from the transparent Pope, Rod Dreher.
RD: Oh, it’s pathetic. I mean, if these things weren’t true that Vigano said, the Pope could have simply said they’re false. But he didn’t do that. He hemmed and he hawed, and he clearly had no idea what to say. I think that this statement of his, this non-denial denial, is, should have been the sort of thing that was chum in the water to reporters, because clearly the Pope is covering something up here.
HH: Then he went on to be asked about abortion, and he said abortion is “not a religious problem.” We’re not against abortion because of religion. It’s a human problem that must be studied from anthropology. He then went on to make some comments about parents being kind to children who are same sex attractive which are non-controversial. But generally, it’s a collapse, Rod Dreher, and I don’t know that the secular media knows how big of a collapse this is. But I also don’t know what happens next.
RD: Well, it is a collapse, and in my book, The Benedict Option, I did some research on religious patterns within not just the Catholic Church, but Christianity in general in the West. And the collapse is general across Christianity, but it’s especially acute within Catholicism, especially among the young. Christian Smith, a sociologist at Notre Dame, studied this closely, and he finds that the faith is falling apart among the young. And those who claim that they’re Catholic are just socially Catholic. They’re Catholic because their families have been Catholic. This is going to require rebuilding from the ruins, and that’s where the local families and local priests come in.
HH: You actually begin with the Gospels. There are four Gospels, and they give an account of the life of Christ. And you either believe it or you don’t. I have always found it to be the only thing that makes sense. It’s the only story that explains everything. And as a lawyer, I’m trained to look for an explanation that explains everything, and so I believe in the person of Jesus and in the account of the Gospels. And there’s a lot of theology I don’t get or don’t try to understand. I’m not a theologian. But it does seem to me that the Church has always been the repository of the Gospel for 1,500 years, and the Reformed Church thereafter, and the Orthodox Church for as long, but that it’s going to be very difficult to get anyone to focus on that in the middle of a much more salacious set of circumstances, and that if only for the sake of the Gospel, many people would resign even if they’ve been unjustly accused, Rod Dreher.
RD: I completely agree. This is an institutional failure, and no preacher of the Gospel has the credibility to be taken seriously if they have all these sins on them, and if they’re carrying all these sins that they haven’t repented of. I mean, look, in my case, Hugh, I was a very fervent Catholic, a very conservative Catholic for many years. And then I got involved covering this scandal back in 2002. Finally, it broke me, because I had always thought, Hugh, that as long as I had all the arguments in my head, the doctrines in my head, my faith would be unassailable. It’s not true. Once you stare into the darkness that is this scandal, it can shake you to the foundations. What I wish I had done is have been more grounded in Scripture, more grounded in personal prayer and personal piety. Then my faith might have been strong enough to withstand it. This is a warning to all Catholics. Do not take this for granted. Do not think that just because this is happening Rome or among the Bishop’s Conference, that you’re going to be all entirely safe.
HH: Now my closest friend is a guy named Bill Lobdell, who is the Los Angeles writer, Los Angeles Times former religion writer. His book, Losing My Religion, is about his conversion, his almost acceptance into the Roman Catholic Church. But they sent him off the cover this scandal. They sent him to Alaska where he went to two remote villages where the Jesuits dumped their predators, and every boy had been raped, every single boy. And he, it broke his faith, too, Rod. He just…
HH: And so he wrote this book on Losing My Religion, and he has never gotten it back. You got yours transformed, but I do think the bishops in America, if they are genuinely shepherds, they’ve got to get together and do something about Wuerl, about McCarrick, about a Pope who’s just clueless or conspiring, and make a stand of some sort.
RD: Absolutely. The cowardice that we’re seeing on behalf of bishops and have seen for years in the face of this scandal is really something else. I think that you know, I tried, I have children of my own, and I’m raising them to be faithful Christians, too. And they’re curious about what’s going on in the Catholic Church, because they see their father really anxious about it. They hear their dad interviewing victims and things like that, and I tell them that look, this is about the Catholics, but this is also about all of us as Christians. We have got to stand up for the victims. You’ve got to be unafraid to tell the truth no matter what happens.
HH: That is, I think, probably the most important thing, and I’ll close with this. In a perfect world, who would you see speaking today, and what would they be saying, Rod Dreher?
RD: Well, I would see parish priests standing up for these victims and letting their congregations know that our faith is in Jesus Christ and His Gospel, and the truth, not faith to a particular office of a particular man with a red hat, and that the laity have to call the elites in the Church to account and hold them responsible. I wish the Pope would do this. I wish the bishops would do this. But the laity can’t sit around and wait for these guys to get their act together before standing up on their own.
HH: Rod Dreher, thank you for joining me this morning. Follow Rod on Twitter, @RodDreher. If you haven’t read The Benedict Option, you should. It’s a roadmap ahead, especially as all the bricks fall off of the, the masonry crumbles around you. And that does look to be accelerating on Twitter, @RodDreher.
End of interview.